Posted 6/12/13 (Wed)
By Olivia Sundeen
Farmer Staff Writer
Relief is on its way.
The impact of oil and gas has affected western North Dakota in many ways - an increase of criminal cases happens to be one of them.
In an attempt to relieve the burden of these massive caseloads, the North Dakota Supreme Court has passed an order assigning two new district judges to the area.
The first judge was chambered in Williston. Once this happened, the McKenzie County Commission filed a petition in support of chambering Judgeship No. 11 in Watford City.
As of last week, the Supreme Court announced that the second judge will be chambered in Watford City. This judge will primarily handle the caseloads in McKenzie County.
“The new judge will be chambered here,” stated Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Anderson. “However, he/she will most likely have to travel to Williston as well. Either way, a permanent judge will provide better access, especially for the Clerk of Court.”
In the past, a surrogate judge from Minot has traveled to Watford City once a month. By chambering a permanent judge in Watford City, a judge will only have to travel to Williston once or twice a week. This will save time and money. A permanent judge will also have more time to manage the increasing caseloads.
McKenzie County State’s Attorney Dennis Johnson supports the Supreme Court’s decision and feels it is a step in the right direction.
“The passing of this bill is significant,” stated Johnson. “It means the judicial needs of the area have finally been recognized.”
The court records show that in McKenzie County alone, the cases filed have gone from 3,911 in 2010 to 9,179 in 2012.
“The case count clearly shows the need,” stated Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor.
According to a report by Carolyn Probst, Trial Court Administrator for the Northwest Judicial District, the “permanent population” does not match the “service population,” including individuals who have moved to the area for work. The “service population” and caseload numbers show why chambering a permanent judge in Watford City makes sense.
“It was basically a no-brainer to place a district judge here,” stated Sanford.
However, Judgeship Nos. 10 and 11 won’t result in immediate relief to the district. But they are a step in the right direction.
Probst’s report also states that even with Judgeship Nos. 10 and 11 the Northwest Judicial District will still be short on judicial resources.
“It will continue to be a work in progress,” stated David Nelson, district judge. “It is hard to speculate what is to come. Once we get a new judge and establish a schedule, we will have the data and experience to establish a better answer.”
An exact date is not set for when the new judge will begin in Watford City. But Nelson speculates that by September, one should be appointed.